Fulfilling a promise: hek-ka

Hekka is a dish you no longer hear of or see very often, even though chopped, across-the-bone cuts of chicken are still called “hekka chicken” at some Foodland stores. A few years ago, chef Mark Noguchi and I went on a mission to find out where the name hekka came from. With the help of the Japanese Cultural Center, we learned that hek-ka is an Okinawan term for the plow blade. It is said that this dish was made by farmers in the fields, who would heat the plow blade over a fire and cook the meat on it — this at a time when the shoguns had decreed that everyone in Japan follow a vegetarian diet. Hekka is just a one-pot version of the beautiful and elaborate sukiyaki, which is traditionally prepared one ingredient at a time and presented like a painting made of food.

You can do it two ways: gather all the ingredients or use a canned product of mixed vegetables (shirataki-no-mono) if you’re near an Asian store. I like the fresh; lucky live Hawai’i.

Grandma’s Homey Hekka

1 pound thin-sliced steak or bone-in chunks of chicken thigh
Vegetable oil
1 bunch green onions, sliced into 1-inch lengths
1-2 small round onions, sliced into crescents
1 can or plastic bag shirataki noodles (yam threads)
1/2-3/4 cup soy sauce (Yamasa low-sodium is actually good)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mirin
Splash of sake or dry sherry
Small knob of ginger, peeled, sliced, smashed by cleaver
1 clove garlic, peeled, smashed by cleaver
Heat vegetable oil in work or large skillet. Partly brown meat or chicken; add green onions and onions. Cook until onions are limp and translucent and meat has turned color, partly cooked. Add shirataki noodles and remaining ingredients. Cook, simmering, for 5-7 minutes, until meat and noodles are flavored. Serve in small portions over bowls of hot, fresh rice.
Serves 4-6.

Variations: Add fresh or reconstituted Japanese mushrooms (shiitake, matsutake), sliced bamboo shoots, sprigs of watercress (big yum!) or, for a vegetarian version, substitute well-pressed baked tofu for meats.

2 Comments

  1. Vadalia

    January 4, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    I have everything needed for this recipe in my pantry. Will try it tomorrow with chicken.

  2. Vadalia

    January 5, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Made Hekka Chicken for Dinner on 1-5-1012. Served over brown rice. Hubby asked “What it that?” I let him read the recipe. He said, “Sounds interesting.” After his first bite, he said, “This is GOOD!!” We both were members of the Clean Plate Club. I love the texture of the yam threads. Thanks, Wanda, for sharing your Grandma’s recipe with us.
    Small note: The next time I make this Hekka, I will use 1/3 cup low-sodium gluten-free soy sauce. 1/2 cup was a bit too salty for my taste. I did not use bone-in chicken, and I used Chinese Yam Threads, each, or both, of which could have made a difference. Also the gluten-free soy sauce may be saltier than others.

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